If you have ever been to Rock Park along the Truckee River in east Reno, you will see children playing in the river and families enjoying barbecues. But if you follow the Tahoe-Pyramid Bikeway north just a few hundred feet, you will come across a large homeless encampment along the Truckee across from the Grand Sierra Resort.
Many homeless people spend their nights in tents along the bikeway between downtown Reno and the eastern edge of town. The homeless population in cities on the West Coast has been rising steadily this year, and Reno is no exception. Shelters are available, but most of the homeless population still remains outside. With winter coming into full swing, temperatures are dropping below freezing and shelters are becoming overcrowded.
As tech giants Tesla, Switch, Amazon and Apple continue to grow their presence in the Reno area, increasing housing prices are often making it more difficult to find affordable places to live. It’s led to worries that there may be an increase in the homeless population, as was the case in Seattle, where a soaring cost of living has been sending low-wage workers to the streets.
The Reno City Council has turned its attention to the homeless problem, but any large changes have been slow so far. There are plans to build a second homeless shelter on Sage Street, but certain city ordinances and zoning laws are slowing the process, and some laws need to be changed in order to allow for the shelter to be constructed. In the meantime, the city is spending roughly $300,000 to renovate a temporary shelter built from a warehouse.
However, the city council also wants to pass new, controversial anti-vagrancy laws that would prohibit sleeping and panhandling in the downtown area in a continuing effort to revitalize downtown Reno. To help curb the impact this would have on the homeless people downtown, the council is also attempting to set up a way to hire caseworkers to connect those homeless with resources such as job help and temporary housing.
Reno is only one of several cities in the West that has seen an increase in its homeless population. In California, Oregon and Washington, the homeless populations grew by roughly 14 percent in the last two years, and almost a quarter of those who are homeless are not in a shelter. Over 100,000 people every night are sleeping on park benches, in the streets, or in tents, just in these coastal states alone.
Nationally, the homeless population is up about 1 percent this year. According to The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, there are roughly 554,000 homeless people in the U.S. on any given night. Of the homeless population, 34.8 percent, or 193,000 people, did not have access to shelter — an increase of 9 percent since 2015.
Joey Lovato can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @NevadaSagebrush.